Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I would never have picked up Burial Rites if it hadn’t been a book club selection. I don’t usually gravitate towards historical fiction. But I am so glad I read this book because I really enjoyed it.

In 19th century Iceland, three people stand trial and are convicted of murder. Their punishment is to be death by hanging. There isn’t a prison system to house them until their execution can be arranged, so they are boarded with the families of some rural agents of the government. Iceland is under Danish rule at the time (which was a surprise to me).

Agnes Magnusdottir is placed with a family in the very cottage where she had once lived. The family, especially the wife and the younger daughter, were none too pleased to have her there. Margret is sure she will murder her daughters in her sleep. I enjoyed learning how Agnes grows on the family. The slow build relationships in this book were delightful.

I was sympathetic to Agnes right away. I don’t even know why exactly. The story is told in alternating first person accounts of Agnes’ current condition along with memories of her past (including the night of the murders) and some letters and official government documents woven throughout.

The Reverend Toti is also featured in this story. Agnes requests him to be her pre-death counsel, and she opens up to him in a way she does not do with anyone else. This allows the reader to learn the horrors and truths of Agnes’ past. This story was just fascinating to me.

There are some gruesome parts, and I was naively hoping for a happy ending. The description states what happens to Agnes, but I never actually read it since this was a book club pick. Oh well. I still thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Audio Comments

The audio CD recording of this book was wonderful. Movern Christie’s reading is phenomenal. It’s a little slower than I would have liked (I was wishing I had it on Audible or OverDrive, so I could adjust the speed). But her pronunciation of all of the names and places was very helpful. I would never have been able to pronounce them as well in my mind if I’d read this book in print.

Rating: 4 Stars

The Deliberate Reader


I read this book as part of The Deliberate Reader online book club.

Burial Rites
Hannah Kent
Little, Brown & Company
September 10, 2013
Audio CD

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard.

Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

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  1. I didn’t think of getting the audio, but I can see how that would have added a great dimension to the story. The difficult parts would have been hard to hear read though. I find I speed up my reading a lot when details are gruesome. Great review (found you via Sheila at The Deliberate Reader).

    1. Thanks, Catherine. It helped a lot with the Icelandic names and places. I didn’t mind the gruesome details on audio. This story was so much more interesting than I was expecting. I’m so glad I read it.

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